Police must arrest suspects, not shoot them dead

Inquests must be held whenever a suspect is shot dead

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture is appalled that four persons were shot dead on Christmas day by the Malaysian police, and they were allegedly not even armed with guns firing at the police (Malay Mail, 25 December 2020).

This is yet another case of extrajudicial killing by the Malaysian police that ought to be independently investigated to determine that there was no wrongdoing by the police.

The national news agency, Bernama, provides us with the police version of what happened, but this is simply not right.

It is best that an inquest be held by a judicial officer, the magistrate. The police should not be investigating cases where their own officers are the alleged killers or perpetrators of crime.

A police officer is duty-bound to only arrest suspects of crimes, who then will be investigated. If investigations reveal they have committed a crime, then the suspects will be charged in court and the accused is accorded the right to a fair trial.

One is only guilty of any crime after the court, after trial, finds the accused person guilty.

If the person to be arrested tries to avoid arrest or use force, then the law in Section 15(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code states: “If such person forcibly resists the endeavours to arrest him or attempts to evade the arrest such officer or other person may use all means necessary to effect the arrest.”

The primary objective is to effect arrest, not to kill the suspects

Were the police shooting to effect arrest or to kill? Could they have not shot and injured these suspects, in their 20s, and arrested them? If one of the four suspects accidently died, and the others were shot and arrested, it may be reasonable. But, yet again, all four suspects were shot dead – and not even one was arrested injured. So, no suspect can tell us their version of what happened.

Article 11(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

In extrajudicial killings, as in this case, at the very most they are suspects – and as such they must always be presumed innocent.

As in some previous cases in Malaysia, after the killings, the police are quick to, maybe wrongly, ‘defame’ the dead, by making assertions like “checks revealed that all the suspects, in their 20s, were members of a masked robbery gang that the police had been looking for” or “we believe all the suspects had been involved in more than 50 robberies in Selangor since the beginning of this year and two of them had criminal records”.

In the determination of guilt, police suspicions and beliefs are irrelevant. It is for the court to determine whether a person is guilty or not.

It also is common for some of these news reports of police shooting that resulted in deaths to say that arms and valuables are found in the vehicle. “Inside the car, police found several machetes, jewellery, cash, some helmets and black clothes believed to be used by the suspects to carry out robbery,” Bernama reported.

If they were previously long-identified suspects, why were they earlier not arrested or even brought in for questioning? Were there arrest warrants issued before or in existence when they were killed?

Are the now reported ‘beliefs’ of the police true or is it simply an attempted justification for the deaths?

The dead, obviously, do not have the capacity to now defend against these possibly false’ allegations. Maybe an independent inquiry will reveal the truth.

Would these deaths now mean that all these cases like the “50 robberies in Selangor” be considered closed. Is it possible that the four were innocent and the real perpetrators are still at large? Now that a trial is avoided, the police and prosecutors will also be freed of having the burden of proving the guilt of the accused?

One other disturbing concern is the speed with which the police suspicions of the involvement of the dead in past crimes gets reported, hours after they have been shot dead. If the police came out with a statement of these past suspicions several days later, after spending some time investigating, it may be more plausible or believable.

It must be noted that past convictions of crimes are irrelevant in determining whether one is guilty of a new or different crime.

The other possible justification for the police action in this Bernama report: “The policemen gave a chase and as they caught up, the suspect’s car rammed into a female GrabFood rider and dragged her for about a few metres.

“After running into the rider, the car could not go forward. The driver tried to ram the rider again prompting the police to fire several shots at the suspect’s car to save the victim,” he [Selangor Police acting chief Arjunaidi Mohamed] told reporters at the scene. The said female rider seem to have “suffered injuries on several parts of her body and was taken to the Sungai Buloh Hospital for treatment”.

Would a speeding car that crashed into a motorbike cause more serious injuries or even death? The testimony of the GrabFood woman rider is important to determine the truth? Did the car try to ram the rider again? An independent inquiry is much needed to determine the truth.

  • Madpet demands speedy independent investigations and inquiries into all ‘police shot dead’ incidents, which is necessary to clear doubts of police wrongdoings or abuse of power. An open inquest by a judicial officer should also be held for all such police shooting incidents
  • Madpet also urges police to arrest suspects and try their very best to avoid killing them

Malaysia must end all forms of extrajudicial killings and ensure every person is accorded the right to a fair trial. Until found guilty by a court of law, everyone must be presumed innocent.

The right to a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence principle also calls for the abolition of all laws that allow detention without trial and that allow persons not tried or found guilty by court to be detained or restricted without even the ability to challenge in court the reasons used by the administration to detain or restrict them.

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Madpet

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